There’s no question that London is a great spot for experiencing contemporary art. Galleries such as the Hayward, the Barbican and Tate Modern regularly present some of the best exhibits in the world. But museums don’t have the monopoly — keep your eyes peeled and you’ll find gallery-worthy artworks in streets, squares and stations across the capital. Here are a few of our favorites:
Cloud: Meteoros by Lucy Orta
This gigantic installation of clouds hovering high in the air above the Grand Terrace at St. Pancras International Station was unveiled last month. Hanging in the spot occupied by the Olympic rings in 2012, Cloud: Meteoros is the first in a program called Terrace Wires that will bring fresh contemporary artworks to the station. The figures standing and sitting on top of the enormous clouds reflect the busy atmosphere of St. Pancras below while the clouds themselves provide a sense of calm and otherworldliness. Along with Paul Day’s The Lovers (a towering statue of a man and woman embracing), this piece is a striking sight for visitors arriving in London by train.
Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 by Elmgreen & Dragset
While Trafalgar Square is best known for Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery and pigeons, that’s not all the London destination has to offer. Since 2005, it has also been home to the changing contemporary artworks of the Fourth Plinth program. The plinth in the northwest corner was designed in 1841 but stood empty for more than 150 years. The current commission, by Danish-Norwegian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset, is a bronze sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse. This playful piece references the equestrian statue for which the platform was originally intended and brings movement and dynamism to the square.
Written in Soap: A Plinth Project by Meekyoung Shin
Another work that subverts the tradition of equestrian statues in the capital is Korean artist Meekyoung Shin’s Written in Soap: A Plinth Project. A two-minute walk from Oxford Circus Underground Station, it re-creates the original statue that occupied the plinth in the center of Cavendish Square between 1770 and 1868. Viewed from afar, the statue looks exactly like marble; it’s only when you get up close that you can tell what it’s really made of — soap. As time passes, the statue is eroded by the weather, changing gradually and releasing a sweet soapy smell as it disintegrates.
If Graffiti Changed Anything It Would Be Illegal by Banksy
You can’t talk about outdoor art in London and not mention Banksy, the graffiti artist whose works adorn walls everywhere from New York City to the West Bank and sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Whether it’s local authorities wishing to prevent what they see as vandalism, rival artists painting over works in a battle for supremacy or as happened recently in London, the owners of buildings laying claim to and attempting to sell the artworks that adorn them, it’s getting harder and harder to find Banksy’s pieces. If Graffiti Changed Anything It Would Be Illegal, which shows Banksy’s famous rat motif below the work’s title daubed in red, first appeared at Clipstone and Cleveland streets in Fitzrovia in 2011. It’s protected by a sheet of Perspex for now, but don’t waste any time if you want to catch a glimpse of it — who knows how long it will be before it disappears.
Photos Courtesy of Lucy Orta and Victoria Miro London, James O. Jenkins and Elmgreen & Dragset